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Opinion19th April 2021

Ark’s youngest pupils welcomed to new nurseries

Ark Start is our new early years education programme that has opened two new nurseries, one at Ark Oval Primary Academy in East Croydon and other at Ark John Archer Primary Academy in Battersea.

At John Archer, youngsters are learning in newly refurbished, child-friendly classrooms. Over in Croydon, the purpose-built nursery is made of recycled shipping containers. Both sites have dedicated areas to enable messy play, quiet time and eating together. There are also outdoor areas where children can play freely and explore the outdoors.

The Ark Start model is based on our experience in schools and rooted in research on what works in early years education. The programme is built on a playful, knowledge-rich curriculum and a pedagogy informed by child development.

The programme will demonstrate the viability of high quality, affordable and flexible early education that can give children the best start in life and help families improve the home learning environment.

How we are doing it

The nurseries are staffed by professional early-years teachers who provide a carefully balanced mix of play-based and teacher-led learning in nurseries.

The nurseries combine the strengths of school-sector nursery classes with the flexibility of their private sector equivalents, including wraparound and holiday care for the children.

The nursery staff work with children’s parents to meet their day-to-day childcare needs and help support the home environment that helps the children’s development.

Children have access to activities explicitly designed to build their understanding of the world and provide them with a stimulating and joyful early education, including offsite visits, activities such as baking or hatching chicks, and hearing from visiting guests.

Our staff access clear progression pathways and participate in a programme of ongoing professional development to ensure they are well-trained.

We know that a positive and stimulating home learning environment is the single most influential factor in improving child outcomes, so we work with parents at home and in the nursery to help them understand what more they can do at home to support their child’s development.

We are partnered with the Empowering Parents Empowering Communities (EPEC) programme to enable our parents to support each other with some of the parenting challenges.

Ark Start is a not-for-profit social enterprise, using government funding for funded places, parent fees for additional hours and supported with philanthropic gifts.

Why we are doing it

The current government policy focuses on providing childcare to parents, but we are interested in ensuring that every child has an outstanding early education that gives them the secure foundations they need to thrive in school and beyond.

The brain develops at an unprecedented rate in the early years, with 80% of brain development taking place by age three and 85% of our language estimated to be in place by the age of five.

Children with poor vocabulary at age five are, for example, four times more likely to have reading difficulties, three times more likely to have mental health problems and twice as likely to be unemployed.

The research shows that access to high-quality early years education is crucial if we want to give all children the best life chances and opportunities and ensure they have the foundations for a happy and healthy life.

The Early Intervention Foundation has estimated the national cost of late intervention to the public purse as £16.7b per year. American academics have estimated the return of investment in high quality pre-school to be between 7% and 13%, and the boost to children’s incomes about ten times the cost of investment.

Our ambition

Ark’s Head of Early Years, Lydia Cuddy-Gibbs, said: “We’ve created a warm and enabling environment for our young learners. We wanted to have a nurturing space that emphasises joy, creativity, play and independence, and we have been overwhelmed with the positive feedback we had from families.

“We aim to improve the quality of care and education for all children, but particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Excellent education in the early years is crucial to securing a positive foundation for learning for children – this is where we can make the most difference. When we look at the disruption caused by covid-19 and its impact on education, it is clear that has never been a better time to put early years at the forefront. Every child deserves to experience high-quality early education and care so they can learn and progress.”